Australia’s Strategic Culture

Deakin University’s Ben Eltham and I have a new paper out in Contemporary Security Policy journal that draws on my PhD research. Taylor & Francis has the electronic copy available online now to journal and institutional subscribers; the print version is due out 23rd July.

 

Here’s the article’s abstract:

 

This article draws on fourth generation strategic culture debates to show the gap between the rhetoric of Australian defence and the more modest reality. Our analysis shows that these limits derive from tensions between national strategic culture and organizational strategic subcultures. There are serious debates in the nation regarding the preferred course of the Australian military and security policy. This article frames these debates by examining the ‘keepers’ of Australia’s national strategic culture, the existence of several competing strategic subcultures, and the importance of norm entrepreneurs in changing defence and national security thinking. Strategic subcultures foster compartmentalization, constraints, and bureaucratic silos that narrow national conceptions of security threats and opportunities, and impinge on the formation of coherent foreign and defence policy in relation to the Asia-Pacific region. This analysis shows that a distinct national strategic culture and organizational strategic subcultures endure beyond individual governments, placing potential limits on Australia’s interface with other Asia-Pacific strategic cultures in the future.

 

My thanks to Wooster College’s Jeffrey Lantis for organising the CSP special issue on strategic culture; the three anonymous and extremely helpful reviewers; and CSP‘s editorial and production staff.

Price Signals and Publishing

Today, I received notification that Contemporary Security Policy has accepted an academic article on Australian defence and national security policy I coauthored with Deakin University’s Ben Eltham.

 

Eltham also wrote for Australia’s New Matilda on the late economist Gary Becker and price signals:

 

Becker’s idea of “human capital” has been among his most influential. This is the notion that getting an education is, in a very real sense, investing in yourself. “If you’re in an environment where knowledge counts for so much, then if you don’t have much knowledge, you’re gonna be a loser,” he once said.

Attitudes like this make Becker the patron saint of neoliberalism. As no less a thinker than Michel Foucault observed, Becker saw the rational individual as an “entrepreneur of himself, being for himself his own capital, being for himself his own producer, being for himself the source of his earnings.

 

Juxtaposing what we wrote with Eltham’s analysis offers insights about academic publishing.

 

Research managers have adopted Becker’s advocacy of human capital. This means that academic publishing is often judged on three output measures: (1) journal rankings; (2) academic citations; and (3) the government income a university receives for each academic’s publication.

 

This has some subtle effects on academic publishing. Fields like anthropology or political science — which require fieldwork or extensive modelling — have different publication rates than some laboratory-based science. The latter enables researchers to publish more papers. This creates a Matthew Effect or Winner-Takes-All dynamic: more income is generated and hopefully more academic citations will occur. These outcomes are examples of Becker’s pricing signals: each publication becomes an output of workload activities (for cost and business process management) and a monetisable income stream (for J-curve patterns in entrepreneurial venture capital: an academic will generate more value as their career unfolds).

 

These price signals have anchoring, disposition, and representativeness biases that can lead some research managers to potentially misjudge the effort involved in getting a paper published. This is where Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s heuristic of having ‘skin in the game’ as a published academic author can be important to facilitate judgments. In our case, Eltham and I spent 18 months writing at least three drafts. We had to rewrite sections for two changes in Australia’s federal government. We had to address new literature. Our special issue editor also edited the paper. I edited the endnotes twice. We got extensive, critical, and helpful comments from three knowledgeable reviewers. I also got feedback during an international conference panel — where I met the journal editor — and from seeing other panels on parallel research programs.

 

This also involved a lot of effort and coordination that formal workload models often do not capture.

 

Narrow interpretations of these price signals can also ignore cumulative learning effects. Eltham and I learned several things in writing our just accepted paper. We self-funded the research as academic entrepreneurs. An earlier article draft had a comparison of United States, United Kingdom, and Australian defence and national security exercises that might become a separate article. We started to co-develop a microfoundations model of strategic culture that first arose when Eltham recommended I read Dan Little’s Microfoundations, Methods, and Causation: On the Philosophy of the Social Sciences (Transaction Publishers, 1998). I learned a lot about national security and recent Australian policymaking innovations: a socialisation process.  These are just some examples of what occurred over an 18 month period.

 

Often, research managers bring up price signals in terms of value creation. However, can be in the narrow sense above of a journal ranking; citation metric; or a dollar value for income generated. Whilst these are important they are only part of the full spectrum of potential value creation that can occur when academic coauthors collaborate on a research article or a project. Yet the conversation is often as if tools like Real Options valuation or Balanced Scorecard reporting (which acknowledges learning) were never created. The problem isn’t the use of managerial frameworks: it’s that they can be used in a shallow and superficial way for less-optimal outcomes.

 

Collectively, these challenges mean that academics and institutions alike never realise the full spectrum of potential value creation from an academic publication. Becker saw investment. Foucault saw entrepreneurship. I see the potential for knowledge commons arbitrage. Perhaps that’s why academics enjoy the international conference circuit so much. Sometimes the potential value creation can be more like work-life balance: Taleb wrote Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder (New York: Penguin Press, 2012) in solitude, to distill his life experience as an options trader and his love of classical philosophy. Read it on your next study leave period.

On Marni Cordell and New Matilda

Veteran independent publisher, editor and journalist Marni Cordell has penned her final editorial for Australia’s New Matilda publication.

 

Cordell has been NM‘s editor for seven years, publisher for four years, and has done important reportage on West Papua, Timor-Leste, and social justice issues. She has supported coauthor and collaborator Ben Eltham’s national affairs reportage.

 

In her final editorial Cordell thanked NM‘s team, contributors, and readers. I would also like to thank Cordell: being an editor and publisher is a rewarding yet demanding job that requires significant behind-the-scenes investment of expertise, time, money, mentoring, and risk-taking. Each editor brings their own unique style and vision to the publication they edit – Cordell has strengthened Australian independent journalism.

 

Cordell announced NM‘s new editor is journalist Chris Graham. Cordell joins Australia’s Crikey as an editor.

5th November 2012: Michael Mann’s Sources of Social Power

Coauthor Ben Eltham bought a copy of Michael Mann‘s Sources of Social Power: Volume 2 (1760-1914) to a meeting on Friday afternoon.

 

Mann’s book is a dense, scholarly study and comparative analysis of the modern nation-state system that blends economics, history, sociology, and political science.

 

It’s also the kind of life-long, indepth research that is now impossible to do under Australian research and publications metrics. Research administrators interpret these metrics as Taylorist outputs: they often don’t consider the long-term investment needed to develop such research programs.

 

Mann has just released Volume 3 (1890-1945); and Volume 4 (1945-2011) is due out at the end of November.

28th October 2012: Australia In The Asian Century White Paper

Australia’s Gillard Government has released its Australia In The Asian Century white paper.

 

You can read Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s comments here. The Lowy Institute’s Sam Roggeveen has some ‘initial’ analysis here.

 

Ben Eltham has some comments on the white paper for New Matilda here. We’ll mention it in an academic paper planned for the Australian Journal of Political Science.

28th October 2012: Negotiating Conference Travel

Yesterday, I had to cancel two papers/presentations with coauthor Ben Eltham at the International Studies Association‘s annual convention in San Francisco in April 2013. We both were unable to get access to research incentive and travel funding for the ISA conference. Some lessons:

 

1. Negotiate your initial contract carefully. Your university employer makes a valuation decision on your career if it gives you an Academic Level versus a HEW Administrator contract. Academic Level roles are governed by the Minimum Standards for Academic Levels (MSALs) and can access research incentive and conference travel funding. HEW Administrator roles often cannot and don’t have as clear pathways for funding access: they are not considered researchers even if they have an existing track record. These access and resource allocative differences can shape your career and create a ‘success to the successful’ dynamic that is needed to become an academic superstar (Sherwin Rosen). Get access to research funds in writing and in your contract: an email or verbal promise often won’t survive a staff change or a cost reduction initiative.

 

2. Negotiate some personal discretionary funds. A secret of successful professoriate is that they negotiate a salary loading component during their initial contract negotiations that are personal discretionary funds. This enables conference travel independent of budget, staff or organisational changes.

 

3. Situate the conference within a long-term research program. University senior management have a ‘value for money’ philosophy. They are interested in grant and journal publication outputs rather than conference papers. You need to show in your conference travel application how the conference will build your international visibility (an MSALs criterion); how the papers will lead to high-level journal publications; and how you will build networks that could become collaborative teams or mentors for competitive grant applications. Be strategic about this: don’t just go to an international conference because of the exotic locale. You are instead reframing the ‘value for money’ philosophy as a strategic level investment in your research career, and with up-front, observable research outputs. Know what the economic value added of your research program is to your university. Link your research program to university areas of distinctive specialisation or strategic investment priority. Use the pre-panel discussions to find out what other national and international researchers and research teams are doing in your area.

 

4. Get an institutional champion. Explain to your boss or supervisor why the conference is important to your research program and overall career. Get their advice and help in dealing with the institutional paperwork for conference travel funding. Having an institutional champion means you won’t feel isolated and you have someone who can help to make the ‘research case’ to senior decision-makers if needed. Your professional association might also have a conference travel fund that you should apply for.

 

5. Develop healthy psychological barriers from your organisation’s problems and self-narrative. The rejection of conference travel funding might relate to other factors such as budget austerity, misaligned incentives (which can involve decision rights and moral hazard), or a change in research funding priorities. You need to differentiate yourself and your research program from the “struggle” narrative (Dr. Jose M. Ramos) that occurs in organisational reform initiatives. You likely did not cause institutional debt or the failure to invest in the necessary infrastructure and strategic portfolios — and you can be part of the change management initiative. Don’t take the funding rejection personally: practice mindfulness techniques and try to be psychologically resilient.

 

6. Write the papers anyway. If you don’t get conference travel funding then reframe this as a self-limit to work around. Think like a New Wave (1978-84) musician: if you decide to self-fund the conference travel then ensure your financial affairs and taxation records are in order. I liked Ben Eltham’s advice: “Let’s use this energy to write write a couple of shit-hot peer-reviewed papers.”

21st September 2012: Paper Abstracts for International Studies Association’s Annual Convention 2013

Coauthor Ben Eltham (a PhD candidate at University of Western Sydney and rising star in Australian national affairs journalism for Crikey and New Matilda) and I have two papers accepted for the International Studies Association‘s annual convention in San Francisco in 2013:

 

Australia’s Strategic Culture and Constraints in Defense and National Security Policymaking

 

Scholars have advanced different conceptualizations of Australia’s strategic culture. Collectively, this work contends Australia is a ‘middle power’ nation with a realist defense policy, elite discourse, entrenched military services, and a regional focus. This paper contends that Australia’s strategic culture has unresolved tensions due to the lack of an overarching national security framework, and policymaking constraints at two interlocking levels: cultural worldviews and institutional design that affects strategy formulation and resource allocation. The cultural constraints include confusion over national security policy, the prevalence of neorealist strategic studies, the Defence Department’s dominant role in formulating strategic doctrines, and problematic experiences with Asian ‘regional engagement’ and the Pacific Islands. The institutional constraints include resourcing, inter-departmental coordination, a narrow approach to government white papers, and barriers to long-term strategic planning. In this paper, we examine possibilities for continuity and change, including the Gillard Government’s forthcoming ‘Asian Century’ whitepaper and 2013 defense whitepaper.

 

(Thanks to Wooster College’s Jeff Lantis for coordinating the Strategic Culture panel that this paper is on.)

 

Complexity, Model Risk, and International Security

 

International security thinking has evolved beyond initial research in the early-to-mid using the chaos and complexity sciences. Firms including Kissinger & Associates, Pimco, The Prediction Company (now part of UBS), Roubini Global Economics and Stratfor have created new models to understand catastrophic/tail risks, and to profit from geopolitical flashpoints such as the current speculative bubble in rare earths, China’s growth in the Asia-Pacific region, and the greater involvement of multi-national corporations in the international political economy. This paper builds on the work of scholars in international security and the sociology of economics and finance, journalists, and hedge fund and risk management practitioners, to address how these new models have diffused into hybrid academic-commercial environments, how they construct new social realities, and ‘model risk’. We focus on structural micro-foundations: to what degrees and under what conditions do the assumptions underlying these new risk models correspond to real-world phenomena like geopolitical flashpoints? Are these phenomena measurable? Are the relationships between them robust? We examine as a case study the Anonymous hack of Stratfor in December 2011, Stratfor’s planned hedge fund StratCap, and Stratfor’s reaction including its hiring in March 2012 of Atlantic Monthly journalist Robert D. Kaplan.

17th September 2012: Conspiracy Theories In The Middle East

Foreign Policy blogger Stephen Walt observes:

 

It’s no secret there are conspiracy theories circulating in the Middle East (as there are here in the good old USA: Remember the “birthers?”) I’ve heard them every time I’ve lectured in the region and done my best to debunk them.

 

I used to edit the alternative news site Disinformation (1998-2003 site archive here). When I got access to the server logs I found the site was getting significant readers from Middle East countries. This was one of several reasons why I did not pursue or publish September 11 conspiracy theories during my editorial stint (which subsequent editors and user-generated content have reversed). It is territory that historian Jeffrey Herf examined during the World War II period in his book Nazi Propaganda for the Arab World (Ithaca NY: Yale University Press, 2009). An Amazon.com search on “conspiracy theories” reveals the book Orientalism and Conspiracy: Politics and Conspiracy Theory in the Islamic World (London: IB Tauris, 2010).

 

Marc Ambinder and Daniel Drezner’s comments (here) on the Cairo and Benghazi riots recalls a point that Ben Eltham and I made in our Twitter Free Iran (2009) conference paper: social media content can trigger a causality chain that leads to deaths ‘in real life’.

18th June 2012: Fairfax Cuts & Jonah Lehrer

Google’s Knowledge Graph is going to catalog the internet (The Atlantic Monthly).

 

Isaac Chotiner hates Jonah Lehrer’s Imagine (The New Republic).

 

Jonah Lehrer on Daniel Kahneman (The New Yorker).

 

Fairfax cuts 1900 staff; FXJ share price rises (The Age).

 

Ben Eltham on the Fairfax cuts (ABC).

 

Imagine Entertainment to adapt George Orwell’s 1984 (Deadline).

 

How to get a job in academia when you finish your PhD (The Thesis Whisperer).

 

Cocaine Incorporated (New York Times Magazine).